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Reviews for February 3rd, 2023

Documentary Round-Up

      Robb-ed is an illuminating, captivating and harrowing documentary about the mass shooting at Robb Elementary school in Uvalde, Texas on May 24th, 2022. Director Charlie Minn does his best using the available footage and witness accounts to trace where the victims, survivors, police and the shooter, Salvador Ramos, were during the mass shooting. He interviews the teachers who survived as well as the students who recall in vivid details their painful memories from that tragic day. He also interviews the victims' and survivors' parents. You'll hear the 911 calls from some of the students. To interview the surviving students, he gathers them together in a room and one by one asks them to talk about what they remember. They're very brave for being able to discuss such traumatic events so candidly. The film isn't easy to watch nor should it be. Charlie Minn doesn't sugar-coat anything, but he does wisely leave out the screams of the kids from the footage--it would've been too horrifying and emotionally devastating if it were included, so he deserves kudos for omitting it.

      Robb-edd doesn't shy away from shedding light on two alarming parts of the mass shooting: when a teacher forgets to lock the school's door which led to the shooter gaining easy access into the school, and incompetent police's delayed response. As for the teacher's forgetfulness, Charlie Minn asks another teacher a great question: Does she hold that teacher responsible in any way for the tragedy by forgetting to lock the door? Her answer is very interesting, empathetic, compassionate and honest. When it comes to the police's delayed response--a delay that lasted 1 hour and 17 minutes!--you'll have every right to feel indignant about it. To call Pedro "Pete" Arredondo, the school's police chief, a coward would be an understatement. This poem by Pablo Neruda can hopefully help with the healing process for the survivors, their families, and anyone else who's suffering from emotional pain and trauma: "They can cut all of the flowers, but they can't stop the spring from coming." At a running time of 2 hours, Robb-ed is a powerful, vital and profoundly moving tribute to the victims and survivors of the 2022 Uvalde mass shooting. It would make for an interesting double feature with Fran Kranz's film Mass which, like Robb-ed, bravely tackles its heavy, controversial topic head-on. Robb-ed opens at Forum 6 Theatres in Uvalde, Texas before expanding to Premiere Cinemas in El Paso, Lubbock, Bryan, Burleston and Abilene, Texas on February 24th, 2023.

80 for Brady

Directed by Kyle Marvin

      Four best friends, Trish (Jane Fonda), Lou (Lily Tomlin), Maura (Rita Moreno), and Betty (Sally Field), obsessed with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots desperately want to win four Super Bowl tickets at a contest. When Lou surprises them with the winning tickets, they travel together to Texas for the 2017 Super Bowl.

      If only the next sentence to that plot synopsis were, "Hilarity ensues." The screenplay by Sarah Haskins and Emily Halpern, who are also responsible for writing the laugh-free, meandering "comedy" Booksmart, have now written yet another unfunny, meandering attempt at "comedy." When the first scene with the four friends gathered together to watch a football game doesn't generate any laughs even with visual gags, i.e. someone knocking over a bowl of snacks, you know you're in for an uphill battle to find something to laugh at. Sometimes a comedy can begin without little to no laughs, like A Fish Called Wanda, while gradually becoming funnier and funnier until it's laugh-out-loud funny. Unfortunately, that's not the case with 80 for Brady. The plot, based on a true story, feels hackneyed, corny, implausible and episodic. It's reminiscent of one of those mindless, witless, lazy SNL comedies from the 1990s that try too hard to make you laugh by resorting to the lowest common denominator and repeating jokes.

      Not a single joke works here---nope, not even when Betty participates in a spicy food challenge or Maura gets high or when Trish interacts with a fan of her book Between A Grock and a Hard Place. The film is also patronizing to older women because it acts as though it's a big deal that they're sexual---i.e. when Trish gets caught making out with a former football player. So what if she made out? Maybe they did more. Who knows? These people are grown up, not teenagers! It's too bad that the screenplay not only dehumanizes them into caricatures, but also makes them seem emotionally immature. That's even before a major twist that will make you see Lou in a whole new light. The way that her friends react to the twist is very unrealistic as though the film were afraid to humanize these characters or to say anything insightful about friendship, honesty and decency. Don't get me started on the undercooked subplots that seem tacked-on, like Betty's relationship with her toxic husband (Bob Balaban). The ending feels rushed and contrived, so it doesn't earn its uplift no matter how hard it tries.

      Just seeing Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Rita Moreno and Sally Field together onscreen is a pleasure to behold. It's too bad, then, that they're undermined by an asinine and bland screenplay that doesn't give them strong enough material to rise above it through their chemistry alone. Rita Moreno is 80 for Brady's MVP and stands out the most, though, among the ensemble. Do actors and/or their agents not bother to read screenplays anymore? Or is this the only screenplay that they could find to star together in? Sure, the film is breezy, harmless and moves along at a brisk pace, but it's a chore to get through when none of the attempts at humor manage to land. If you want to see a much bolder, funnier and wittier comedy with older actors like Doris Roberts, Liz Sheridan and Andy Grffith having a great time, see Play the Game. At a running time of 1 hour and 38 minutes, 80 for Brady is hackneyed, repetitive and painfully unfunny despite a fine ensemble cast. It's as dumb, witless and lazy as A Night at the Roxbury minus the lively soundtrack.

Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Paramount Pictures.
Opens nationwide

The Amazing Maurice

Directed by Toby Genkel and Florian Westermann

      Maurice (voice of Hugh Laurie), a talking cat, and Keith (voice of Himesh Patel) make money as con artists by using rats to trick townspeople into thinking that there's a rat plague. Keith pretends to be a Pied Piper who "magically" gets rid of the rat plague. Their scheme doesn't quite work in the town of Bad Blintz where the mayor (Hugh Bonneville) has hired rat catching including Boss Man (David Thewlis). Maurice and Keith team up with Malicia (Emilia Clarke), the mayor's daughter, to save the rats from Boss Man.

      Although The Amazing Maurice doesn't quite reach the heights of Ratatouille or Shrek, it's nonetheless fun and thrilling adventure that will keep audiences, young and old, entertained. The screenplay by Terry Rossio, based on the children's book The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents has a pretty conventional good vs. evil narrative that doesn't break any new ground, but it's told in a way that's witty and amusing with some tongue-in-cheek humor. The villains aren't very interesting nor do they have much of a backstory. However, Maurice and Malicia are indeed interesting characters not only because they're given a compelling backstory, but they also have their own unique personality. More importantly, screenwriter Terry Rossie has a great handle on exposition. If you're not familiar with the Terry Pratcher book, that's okay. You won't feel lost because the plot is easy to follow and the characters are introduced effectively---especially Maurice. He also does a wonderful job of using humor and wit to hook the audience right away during the first 5 minutes. There's some slapstick humor, but not too much. Malicia also serves as the narrator who uses another Terry Pratcher book as a framing device while breaking the fourth wall by talking to the audience. Fortunately, those fourth wall breaks only happen at the beginning and the end. Like the recent Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, The Amazing Maurice isn't afraid to explore dark themes such as death. There's a little violence which might be intense for little kids, i.e. a fights between dogs and rats, but it's refreshing to see a film that doesn't baby or pander to younger audience.

      The CGI animation looks colorful and dazzling while providing plenty of eye candy. Through visual style alone, The Amazing Maurice delights and captivates. Fortunately, it doesn't forget to be heartfelt throughout all of the spectacle. The voice-over work is also superb, and the pace moves quickly enough without any scenes that overstay their welcome. At an ideal running time of 1 hour and 33 minutes, The Amazing Maurice is an exhilarating adventure with just right balance of action, comedy and heart.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Viva Pictures.
Opens nationwide

Baby Ruby

Directed by Bess Wohl

      Jo (Noémie Merlant), a popular vlogger, expects to give birth to her baby daughter soon and throws a baby shower. Little does her husband, Spencer (Kit Harington), know that she'll go off the deep end once Ruby is born. She thinks that Ruby wants to hurt her and that others want to steal her. Is it real or all in her mind?

      The screenplay by writer/director Bess Wohl combines psychological horror, suspense, mystery and surrealism. Subtlety isn't one of its strong points, though, because its metaphors are heavy-handed and obviously which simultaneously makes the mystery element less suspenseful. That's forgivable because the film, instead, turns into a genuinely heartfelt character study of a woman who's having a tough time facing motherhood. She doesn't really have any good friends to turn to for emotional support. Her vlog fans wonder why she's not updated her website with photos of Ruby, but they have no idea what she's going through on an emotional level. Spencer's mom, Doris (Jayne Atkinson) arrives, but only makes matters worse by candidly telling Jo that she had considered killing Spencer when he was a baby. She also compares babies to E.T. Jo's doctor (Reed Birney) explains to Jo that it's normal for a baby to be curious by ripping her dangling earring off. He notices that she's behaving very suspiciously at his office. He's clearly concerned about her and asks her to wait there while he gets the baby some shots, but she leaves his office in a hurry. That's the last time the audience sees the doctor, so it's a subplot that remains undercooked.

      Fortunately, writer/director Bess Wohl blurs the line between reality and fantasy enough to keep the film intriguing for the first hour before the psychological horror elements begin to become repetitive. There are shades of Rosemary's Baby, not surprisingly. It's not quite clear, though, how Jo's behavior affects her marriage with Spencer; this isn't the kind of film that has a lot to say about marriage. The third act uses a metaphor, yet again, to provide some poetic closure to Jo's relationship with Ruby and to motherhood in general, but it would've been interesting if it were to have dug a little deeper into Jo and Spencer's relationship which leaves more questions than answers. Poetry, after all, is a form of protest for or against something, so what is Baby Ruby a protest for or against? The answer to that question is left, sans preachiness, for the audience to decide on their own.

      Noémie Merlant gives a raw, moving performance as Jo. She pours her heart and soul into the role which helps to humanize Jo and for the audience to connect with Jo emotionally even though she's not always likable. It's also worth mentioning the lighting, camera work and sound design which combine to create a foreboding, eerie atmosphere. Blood and violence are both kept to a minimum; the film doesn't rely on shock value nor on cheap jump scares to entertain the audience. At a running time of 1 hour and 29 minutes, Baby Ruby is an unnerving, poignant and provocative metaphor for postpartum depression.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Magnolia Pictures.
Opens at IFC Center.

The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic

Directed by Teemu Nikki

      Jaakko (Petri Poikolainen), a blind man with multiple sclerosis, lives alone. He gets occasional visits from his caretaker (Hannamaija Nikander) and calls from his parents. Instead of going out with his parents to get ice cream at the park, he decides on a whim to travel by train and cab to visit Sirpa (Marjaana Maijala), a woman he met online who's suffering from vasculitis and must undergo chemotherapy.

      On the surface, The Blind Man Ho Did Not Want to See Titanic has a lot in common with The Whale. Both are unflinching, immersive character studies of lonely people who have physical disabilities and yearn for a human connection. The comparisons end there though. Jaako and the protagonist in The Whale are like night and day. Writer/director Teemu Nikki does a great job of introducing you to Jaako. Within the first 15 minutes, you learn a lot about Jaako and his personality. He's witty, irreverent, stubborn, intelligent, honest, compassionate and also very funny. Before Jaako heads out to meet Sirpa, the screenplay hooks the audience by finding comedy within its deeply tragic subject matter. Comedy, after all, is often rooted in tragedy. Jaako's interactions with Sirpa are sweet and tender without being cloying. Nikki keeps exposition to a bare minimum, though, so although there isn't much backstory to Jaako, you know just enough about him and his relationship with his parents who seem to treat him like he's a little kid---i.e. going out to get ice cream--despite that he's a grown man. What happens after Jaako embarks on his long journey to Sirpa won't be spoiled here, but it will put him to the test in ways that you won't expect it to. It's around that time that the film becomes unpredictable, terrifying, intense, cinematic and suspenseful on a palpable level. The only minor, systematic flaw is that the genre-switching might give you a little whiplash, and the third act, although heartwarming, feels rushed, sugar-coated and leaves you with more questions than answers, especially after everything that happens to Jaako throughout his journey. That said, it's uplifting to see a film about someone who doesn't let his physical disability define him or become an obstacle in his quest to find love and affection in a cold, dehumanizing, alienating world.

      Kudos to writer/director Teemu Nikki for choosing a disabled actor to play the lead role. That's a step in the right direction that documentaries like CinemAbility try to encourage. Petri Poikolainen, like Jaako, is blind and suffers from MS. He gives a brave, raw, emotionally generous performance that displays Jaako's vulnerability and innate strengths while opening the window into his heart, mind and soul completely. In that sense, The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic is very much like The Whale: the performance is so gritty and unflinching that it makes you feel like you're watching a documentary. The cinematography has a grainy look with washed-out colors and lots of close-ups that adds to the intimate emotional connection between the audience and Jaako. Interestingly, everything surrounding Jaako remains blurry and out-of-focus which helps to get inside of Jaako's head even more. It's hard to watch yet hard to look away concurrently. The fact that writer/director Teemu Nikki captures so many emotions in less than 90 minutes is a testament to his skills and discipline as a filmmaker. He grasps the concept that less is more. If only he could teach that to other filmmakers who have yet to learn that important lesson. At a running time of 1 hour and 22 minutes, The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic is a spellbinding and thrilling emotional journey. It's unflinching, genuinely heartfelt and acerbically funny.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Cinedigm/Fandor.
Opens at Regal Union Square in NYC, Regal City North in Chicago, Regal Sherman Oaks Galleria in LA, Regal Royal Palm Beach in Florida, Regal Jack London in SF, Regal Meridian in Seattle, and Regal UA Commerce Township in Walled Lake, MI.

Freedom's Path

Directed by Brett Smith


Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Xenon Pictures.
Opens in select theaters.

Full Time

Directed by Eric Gravel

      Julie (Laure Calamy), a single divorced mother, struggles to make ends meet and to balance work and raising her two young kids, Chloé (Sasha Lemaitre Cremaschi) and Nolan (Nolan Arizmendi). Every early morning, she has a long commute to Paris where she works as a chambermaid at a 5-star hotel. Meanwhile, she applies for a marketing research job at a firm. Her chambermaid job remains at risk because she's frequently late because of a transit strike that also affects her work performance.

      Full Time serves as a fascinating character study of an overworked, frustrated single mom and as a gripping, breathless thriller that's as intense as Uncut Gems and as grim as a Ken Loach film. From the very first frame, writer/director Eric Gravel throws you right into the stressful life of Julie. She wakes up very early in the morning to go to work while repeatedly trying to contact her ex about missing alimony payments. Her bank tries to schedule a meeting with her because she's behind on her mortgage payments. She arrives home very late from work because of the transit strike, and the interview for her new corporate job happens to be in the middle of her work day. Julie is clearly at wit's end with little to no sleep and hanging by a thread. Writer/director Eric Gravel effectively keeps the audience at the edge of their seats and caring about Julie as a human being because they're with her every step of the way. Her character is relatable because everyone at some point goes through what she's going through--or they will later on in life. Is she a bad parent? Is she trying her best or can she do better? Fortunately, Full Time doesn't judge her nor does it ask you to judge her, but rather to experience her. The situations that she puts her kids in as well as her babysitter and a new young coworker at work speak volumes about the kind of reckless person she is. However, despite her imperfections, flaws and apparent selfishness, she has good intentions and isn't a monster.

      What remains up to the audience's interpretation, though, is what Julie's true sense of self is. Does she have introspection? Is she an optimist or a pessimist or somewhere in between? Will she repeat her mistakes in the future? Is she truly capable of learning and growing? What has she learned? Did she even really want to be a parent? Amidst the hustle and bustle of her life, perhaps she doesn't even have time to stop to look inward, to learn and to grow. She has blossoming friendship with a kind neighbor, Vincent (Cyril Gueï), whom she flirts with, but fortunately that doesn't turn into a distracting romantic subplot, so the film remains focused without losing its narrative momentum or going off on any unnecessary tangents. Julie does indeed experience a lot of despair and suffering, but there are some glimmers of hope as well.

      Laure Calamy gives a tour de force performance as Julie. She's the film's heart and soul, so Full Time is lucky that she has the acting chops to sink her teeth into the complexities of her role with utter conviction while allowing you to empathize with Julie at the same time. The techno music score by Irène Drésel adds to the intensity much like the score in Uncut Gems and Shiva Baby, but it does get repetitive and somewhat overbearing. There's enough tension within the narrative, so whenever the music score comes on--which is often--it hits the audience over the head without trusting their emotions enough. Everything from the cinematography to the fast pace makes for a wild ride that's occasionally exhausting which might help you to relate to Julie because she's exhausted, too. At a running time of 1 hour and 27 minutes, Full Time is one of the most gripping, intense and unnerving thrillers since Uncut Gems.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Music Box Films.
Opens at Quad Cinema.

Knock at the Cabin

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

      Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge), a gay couple, spend their vacation at a cabin in the woods with their adopted young daughter, Wen (Kristen Cui). One day, four strangers, Leonard (Dave Bautista), Redmond (Rupert Grint), Adriane (Abby Quinn), and Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), arrive out-of-the-blue and hold them hostage to inform them that the apocalypse is imminent. The only way to stop the apocalypse from occurring is if one of them dies.

      Based on the comic book The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul G. Tremblay, the screenplay by writer/director M. Night Shyamalan, Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman begins as a home invasion thriller before switching genres into an apocalyptic thriller that takes itself too seriously.  If you haven't read the comic book, you might wonder to yourself at first, "Where is this plot headed towards? Who are Leonard, Redmond, Adriane and Sabrina? Are they human? Are they aliens?" They act like they've escaped from a mental ward. Andrew has every right to doubt what they're saying. He pretty much represents the majority of the audience's point-of-view. The way that the strangers go around the room to introduce themselves one by one to Eric, Andrew and Wen is among the most awfully-written scenes in the film. It's a testament to lazy screenplay and around the time the film takes a sharp nosedive with too much overexplaining, distracting flashbacks and poor exposition. Concurrently, suspense gradually dissipates as there are not nearly enough surprises. That's the only thing shocking about Knock in the Cabin because M. Night Shyamalan is known for making movies with surprising twists and turns that keep you at the edge of your seat while making you think. Here he's merely playing it safely without taking any risks. The third act feels silly, rushed and undercooked with an ending that doesn't quite leave a bad aftertaste; it leaves no taste at all because it's so bland. Knock and the Cabin doesn't even work as a psychological thriller or social commentary like Jordan Peele's Get Out manages to successfully become.

      The best part of Knock in the Cabin is Kristen Cui's breakthrough performance as Wen. She's the movie's MVP. Everyone else either overacts or just gives a really poor performance. David Bautista lacks the charisma and acting chops to breathe life into his role. There's also very little chemistry between Eric and Andrew. They're supposed to be a couple, but you don't even see them kissing. Then there's the excessive gore and violence which is disturbing and ultimately pointless, especially in hindsight. One of the red herrings, the grasshoppers, is kind of poetic, but even that makes little sense in retrospect and seems tacked-on. When it comes the cinematography, there are too many close-ups of people's faces which is an odd and distracting way to make the film cinematic and stylish. It doesn't add anything either other than allowing you to see the pores on Dave Bautista's skin. At a running time of 1 hour and 40 minutes, Knock at the Cabin is an undercooked, overwrought and clunky apocalyptic thriller low on suspense, intrigue and surprises. Donnie Darko does it better.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Universal Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

Let It Be Morning

Directed by Eran Kolirin

      Sami (Alex Bakri), his wife, Mira (Juna Suleiman) and son, Adam (Maruan Hamda), leave their home in Jerusalem to attend the wedding of Sami's younger brother, Aziz (Samer Bisharat), at his hometown in the West Bank where he grew up. They're unable to return to Jerusalem because the Israeli army has blocked the roads leading out of the town. With no cell phone service, Sami and his family remain stuck in the West Bank with no explanation of why the blockade occurred or when it will end.

      Writer/director Eran Kolirin does a great job of taking a timely, political human rights issue and turning it into a melancholic film with some dry humor. The humor isn't laugh-out-loud funny nor witty per se, but it's gentle, subtle and grounded in humanity. Kolirin grasps the concept that comedy is often rooted in tragedy, and that even harsh realities can have some absurdity. Some parts of a film are a bit contrived, though, like an Israeli soldier guarding the exit gate who happens to be related to someone who Sami studied with in college. Sami uses that to emotionally blackmail the Israeli soldier into risking his job to find him cell phone reception. In a rather underdeveloped subplot, it turns out that Sami is cheating on his wife with a mistress back in Jerusalem. Not surprisingly, he and Mira don't have a happy marriage, but Let it Be Morning isn't concerned about exploring that or saying anything insightful about marriage. Interestingly, the film doesn't reveal much of Sami's life back in Jerusalem before his arrival at the wedding. It begins at the wedding while exposition is peppered throughout the film. There's no mention of what's causing the blockade or what's going on politically in Israel at the time. The perspective remains focused on Sami's for the most part without looking at the bigger picture from different perspectives, so it's rather limited in scope. The plot does meander a bit with little forward momentum during the second. That said, it does get rather dark, grim and unflinching at times, but the absurdity is still there, even in the unconventional, un-Hollywood third act that doesn't resort to tying everything in a neat bow nor to finding easy solutions and answers.

      The performances are fine with no one under-acting or over-acting. The natural performances help to ground the film in realism and to keep the audience at least mildly captivated. In terms of pacing, sometimes Let it Be Morning moves at just the right pace, and sometimes it's rather sluggish, so patient audiences will be rewarded the most. It's a slow-burn. There's also a few metaphors that add some poetic symbolism and foreshadow, i.e. doves that refuse to fly upon release. Poetry is often a form of protest for or against something. Let it Be Morning is clearly a protest against war and for peace. It's mildly engaging and not as funny or witty as Tel Aviv on Fire nor as searing and brilliant as The Time That Remains, but it's nonetheless a tender, gently humorous and bittersweet tragicomedy.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Cohen Media Group.
Opens at Quad Cinema.

A Lot of Nothing

Directed by Mo McRae

      When James (Y’lan Noel) and his wife, Vanessa (Cleopatra Coleman), learn that Brian (Justin Hartley), the cop who killed a black teenager, happens to live next door, they take justice into their own hands by kidnapping him and holding him hostage at their house.

      A Lot of Nothing is yet another film with a premise that sounds provocative and suspenseful, but leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to how those ideas are executed. Writer/director Mo McRae and co-writer Sarah Kelly Kaplan essentially take an A-movie concept and turn it into a clunky, sophomoric and increasingly implausible B-movie. If it were funny, witty, campy or bonkers, it would've been entertaining in a guilty pleasure sort of way. The dialogue sounds stilted more often than not while lacking wit, nuance and depth. None of the characters come to life because the screenwriters fail to treat them as human beings by getting inside their head. There's not enough private moments or backstory for the characters which would humanize them more. There's nothing wrong with having unlikable characters or exploring the dark side of human nature. However, A Lot of Nothing barely scratches the surface of its bold and thought-provoking ideas, so it seems like it's trying to be shocking just for the sake of being shocking and disturbing. Sometimes a thriller can run out of steam and take a nosedive in the third act which could still make it a mildly engaging thriller; this one runs out of steam early in the second act when Vanessa and James kidnap Brian.

      Vanessa is justifiably angry at Brian for a racist remark he made toward her when she confronts him early on, but what she does with that anger makes her a terrible role model. She clearly lacks the emotional maturity to know what to do with her anger. As the aphorism goes, hurt people hurt people. Where does her emotional immaturity stem from? Where did she learn to be so hurtful and hateful? What are her parents like? Who are her role models? Martin Luther King, Jr. is obviously not among them. He wouldn't agree with her decision to kidnap Brian. Two wrongs don't make a right. Vaness seems cut from the same cloth as Jigsaw from Saw who also kidnaps and tortures people who did bad things. Unfortunately, A Lot of Nothing is too lazy and shallow to answer any of the questions that it leaves the audience with. That's not something that should be left to the audience's imagination.

      The performances are a mixed bag that fail to enliven the film. There's some over-acting and some wooden performances. No one gets a chance to shine on screen, but that's also because of the weak screenplay that just seems to be going through the motions. It's not good when you can feel the wheels of a screenplay turning. Not a single scene rings true or organic. The production values are fine albeit nothing exceptional that stands out. At a running time of 1 hour and 44 minutes, which feels like more than 3 hours, A Lot of Nothing is a disappointing and underwhelming misfire.

Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by RLJE Films.
Opens at Cinema Village and on VOD.

Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night

Directed by Ayako Kōno

     Asuna (voice of Haruka Tomatsu) and Kirito (voice of Yoshitsugu Matsuoka) in the Sword Art Online Game. They hunt for hidden treasure and team up to win the game by battling their nemesis, an evil boss on floor five. First they have to survive the battles on each floor before reaching the top floor.

      Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night is the sequel to Sword Art Online: Aria of a Starless Night. If you're already a fan of the Sword Art Online series, it'll be mildly captivating and diverting, but everyone else will find it hard to understand what makes these characters and the series so compelling. The screenplay by Reki Kawahara doesn't spend much time on world-building or exposition which could lead to some confusion for newbies. The first 15 minutes or so are tough to sit through because they're dull and don't get to the meat of the story yet. The story itself isn't very exciting, unfortunately. it's just a run-of-the-mill good vs. evil battle with some action that quickly becomes repetitive. Comic relief and wit aren't among the film's strong points, but neither are character development and narrative momentum. A lot goes on onscreen, yet very little actually sticks and engages the audience, even on a superficial level. Sometimes the more a plot progresses, the more interesting and suspenseful it becomes, but that's not the case here. Moreover, the villains are very boring. Unfortunately, this is yet another anime film that alienates audiences who are unfamiliar with the characters and series.

      The occasionally breathtaking animation is the only redeeming factor of Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night, but it's not nearly enough to compensate for the forgettable story that fails to sufficiently entertain. Even the action sequences aren't very exciting or thrilling.  At least the film doesn't clock past the 2 hour mark, so it avoid becoming an exhausting chore to sit through. At a running time of 1 hour and 41 minutes, Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night is visually stunning, but often bland with a weak narrative and lackluster action.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Crunchroll.
Opens nationwide.